As Senegal’s coast crumbles into the Atlantic Ocean, residents ponder moving to safer ground.

Senegal, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cheikh Badiane, a weathered fisherman, looks out to sea from the edge of his neighbourhood in the north Senegalese city of Saint-Louis.

Behind him is a densely populated fishing quarter, where buildings rise haphazardly, and children and animals fill narrow sandy streets.

Before him, the land ends abruptly and waves lap against the ruins of a concrete wall. Each year, a bit more of his hometown crumbles into the Atlantic Ocean.

“A French man told us once that there will be a time when this land won’t exist,” said Badiane, who lives in the working-class district of Guet Ndar. “Maybe in 30 years, maybe in 50. I don’t know.”

What he knows is that the land he grew up on – a thin strip between the Senegal River and the ocean – is disappearing fast.

Senegal’s coastline is receding at an estimated average rate of 1 to 2 metres per year, driven by rising sea levels, rapid urbanisation and illegal sand mining for construction. Other countries in West Africa face similar problems.

In vulnerable communities like Badiane’s, some experts say the trend is irreversible, and the best option is for families to move before they lose their houses and belongings.

“(The people) are trying to fight, but in reality the phenomenon has become very serious,” said Abdou Sane, a former parliamentarian based in Dakar who has spearheaded efforts to reduce the threat of disasters.

“It exceeds the means of the government, the means of communities,” he added.